Experts and Detainees Urge Reducing Use of Pretrial Detention in Cook County

On November 17, 2016, the Cook County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on the use of monetary bond in the Cook County. Specifically, the hearing gathered evidence and testimony on the unconstitutionality of the current practice of detaining people pretrial simply as a result of their inability to pay bond and explored alternatives. The hearing was called for and chaired by Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia and featured a powerful panel of people who were formerly detained pretrial in Cook County Jail or in their homes due to electronic monitoring as well as gripping testimony by Alec Karakatsanis of Civil Rights Corps, Professor Cynthia Jones, Dr. Traci Schlesinger, and others. You can watch the entire hearing starting at minute 14 in the linked video.

This post presents highlights from testimonies presented at the hearing and supplemental research and sources for those interested in further investigation.

 

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Image created by Chicago Community Bond Fund

First, however, some brief context on the problem of pretrial incarceration and other restrictions on liberty. There are currently 7,999 individuals detained in Cook County Jail; 93% are detained pretrial (as in not convicted of any offense); 67% of pretrial detainees have a monetary bond they cannot pay; and 70% of all pretrial detainees are facing charges for non-violent offenses. An additional 2,200 people are on pretrial electronic monitoring, an “ankle monitor” system that results in home confinement and a host of other negative consequences for many.

Secondly, the term “risk” is used throughout the hearing and often in reference to the use of pretrial risk assessment tools. In the pretrial phase, “risk” generally refers to a defendant’s risk of failing to appear in court, risk of committing (or being charged with committing) a new crime, and the particular risk of committing a new violent crime. Cook County is currently using the Arnold Foundation’s Public Safety Assessment tool to evaluate all felony defendants in Central Bond Court. The Chicago Reader published a thoughtful article on the PSA’s promises and limitations last month.

Testimony 1: Sharone Mitchell, Program Director at the Illinois Justice Project

Mr. Mitchell highlighted basic facts regarding the dysfunction of our current system. For example, hearings in bond court last an average of 37 seconds; 93% of the detainees in Cook County Jail are there awaiting a trial; and 63% of the detainees in Cook County Jail are there because they cannot post bond. The practice of detaining people indefinitely because they cannot post bond flouts the purpose of Illinois’s bond statute and likely the U.S. Constitution. As a matter of practice, judges in Cook County do not inquire as to what amount the defendant or his family would actually be able to post. The result is that money, rather than actual safety concerns, has become the driver of who is in jail. Individual bond court judges are further quite inconsistent in both the bonds they set and whether their decisions align with the recommendations of the pretrial risk assessment tool.

Mr. Mitchell also was the first to note what ultimately became a major theme of the hearing: ensuring that reform efforts dramatically reduce pretrial detention in addition to eliminating the use of money bond. Mr. Mitchell described our current structure as one that creates a two separate justice systems: the first, in which an individual is free pretrial and able to fight their case and exercise their rights; and a second, in which an individual is incarcerated pretrial and is consequently coerced into abandoning many rights. In the latter system, incarcerated defendants are many times more likely to plead guilty or be found guilty at trial. Defendants incarcerated pretrial also receive longer sentences. The significant downstream impact of pretrial detention thus makes it a significant driving force in mass incarceration.

Mr. Mitchell referenced this recent study on pretrial detention in Cook County at several points.

Testimony 2: Hon. Truman Morrison, Superior Court Judge, Washington, D.C.

Judge Morrison has served on the bench for 37 years. He noted that D.C. has demonstrated that dysfunctional justice systems can change and that, now, D.C. is unique in that there is not one person in jail pretrial because that person cannot post a monetary bond. D.C. releases approximately 90% of all people arrested. If a defendant is identified as being too risky to release, the person is detained for that reason and not because they cannot post a certain amount of money. 98% of the 90% of defendants released in D.C. return to court and are not rearrested. Of the 2% who are rearrested, it is almost universally for nonviolent offenses. You can review the D.C. Pretrial Service Agency’s performance measures here.

Judge Morrison further noted the incredible level of support for D.C.’s pretrial services system among the judiciary in D.C.: “There is not one outlier judge in my system.”

Commissioner Suffredin asked Judge Morrison about the costs of pretrial supervision, which may be necessary, he argued, in place of detention or monetary bond. Judge Morrison said funding is required to provide pretrial services, but most releases on recognizance do not require many pretrial services or supervision—simple reminders have been shown to work just as well. “[You] don’t need all the bells and whistles,” Judge Morrison noted. In DC, 25% of those released have no supervision whatsoever; in Kentucky, that percentage is even higher. “You are going to have to spend some money, but when you do that, you get rich dividends: major cost savings by not using jail beds.“

Here is a recent Washington Post article discussing Judge Truman and the D.C. system.

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Professor Jones at the hearing

Testimony 3: Professor Cynthia Jones, American University Washington College of Law

Professor Jones’s testimony focused on the racial bias that results from the use of monetary bond. Black defendants are the least likely to be released on their own recognizance and also the least likely to be able to pay a monetary bond. Being Black increases the likelihood of being denied bail by 25%. The same figure for Latinos is 24%. Bail should be the great equalizer in a racially discriminatory criminal justice system because it is capable of compensating for differences in class and ability to gain release, but, in fact, the opposite is happening.

Professor Jones relayed a story of public defender representing an African American man in order to note the chasm between what judges may think is reasonable monetary bond versus what defendants and their families can afford. The public defender felt terrific that she had gotten the bail reduced to just $300; however, after going to the family of the defendant, she was told by the grief-stricken grandmother, “Sweetheart, there has never been $300 in this house at one time, ever.”

Professor Jones noted there are two “drivers” that explain the kind of bail system we have now: 1) expediency and 2) the lack of relevant information: “Nobody is checking relevant information on anybody.” Hearings are happening so quickly and with so little investigation that decisions are not well-informed. Secondly, many pretrial services departments are either insufficient or non-existent. Simply collecting telephone contact information for defendants in order to provide text message or call reminders can increase the appearance rate in court up to 90%. Despite proof that such simple and non-monetary steps are as effective or even more effective than monetary bonds, many jurisdictions, like Cook County, continue to rely on them out of habit.

Professor Jones is the founder of the Pretrial Racial Justice Initiative, a project of Pretrial Justice Institute.

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Panel of previously detained people at the hearing

Panel: Gloria Ramirez, Tyler Smith, and Lavette Mayes, People impacted by monetary bond and pretrial restrictions on liberty

(moderated by Chicago Community Bond Fund co-founder and Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice Criminal Justice Fellow, Sharlyn Grace)

All three panelists had recent experience with monetary bond and experienced negative consequences because they could not pay their bond. Gloria Ramirez and Lavette Mayes were incarcerated in Cook County Jail (CCJ), and Tyler Smith was placed on electronic monitoring (EM) and confined to his home. Ms. Ramirez was given a $100,000 D-Bond (requiring payment of $10,000) despite having no prior arrests, being a diabetic, and having caretaking responsibilities for her grandchild who is in her custody. Ms. Ramirez spent several weeks in CCJ before her family was able to take out loans and borrow bond money to get her out. Lavette Mayes was given a $250,000 bond requiring payment of $25,000 despite the fact she also had no prior arrests, was working, and was the primary caretaker for her two children. Ms. Mayes spent 14 months in CCJ before her bond was reduced to $95,000 (requiring $9,500 be posted), and Chicago Community Bond Fund posted her bond.

Tyler Smith, on the other hand, was given a $25,000 D-Bond in lieu of EM, meaning that he had to post $2,500 in order to be removed from an ankle monitor requiring him to stay inside his home at all times unless given permission to leave by the Sheriff’s Office. Mr. Smith was working two jobs at the time of his arrest, including one as a supervisor. He had been the head of his household since his mid-teens and had no prior arrests. Due to the restrictions of EM, however, Mr. Smith lost his job at UPS, and he and his mother almost lost their housing.

Mr. Smith stressed that EM is in many ways as bad as being in jail. He described how could not even go to the grocery story or church without special permission, much less go to job interviews. When Mr. Smith did secure job interviews, he would call the Sheriff’s Office asking for permission to attend the interview. The Sheriff’s deputies then called each potential employer to verify the interview, scaring the employers off and making getting a job virtually impossible.

All three panelists told of horrifying conditions in Cook County Jail that they witnessed while detained pretrial. Ms. Ramirez could not get the food she needed to keep her diabetes under control or regular checks of her blood pressure. The costs of commissary and phone calls were additional financial burdens on families already strapped for resources. Ms. Ramirez also mentioned seeing bugs and rodents in her cell.

You can find more information about the Chicago Community Bond Fund on their website or Facebook page.

Testimony 4: Alec Karakatsanis, Civil Rights Corps

Alec Karakatsanis and the Civil Rights Corps have filed approximately 20 court challenges to the use of monetary bond across 20 jurisdictions, most recently here in Cook County. He noted that there are 450,000 individuals in jail on pretrial detention nationally—people being held in cages while presumed innocent—all without any evidence that it is doing society any good. In fact, the opposite is true: people held in pretrial detention are eventually 40% more likely to commit crimes in the future.

With respect to Cook County, Mr. Karakatsanis noted the large number of “dead days” caused by our current system. Dead days is Sheriff Dart’s name for time spent in Cook County Jail that exceed the length of the sentences imposed when people are finally convicted. Last year, there were 1,024 individuals who spent so much time in custody that once they were sentenced to state prison, they already had served every day of their prison sentence. On average, these individuals served two and a half months of extra time incarcerated.

Mr. Karakatsanis noted two dangers to look out for as Cook County explores alternatives to monetary bail are explored: (1) An overuse of supervision. Some jurisdictions, too fearful to simply let people go based on the research and a verified risk assessment, instead overburden individuals with needless and oppressive supervision that ultimately only ensures their failure and subsequent detention; and (2) An overuse of no-bond detention itself, simply incarcerating the same number of people (many of whom could be safely released) only without the monetary bonds they could not previously pay.

As many of the speakers before him also did, Mr. Karakatsanis noted that Cook County’s ultimate goal must be to reduce pretrial detention through and in combination with the elimination of monetary bail.

You can see Alec Karakatsanis address the American Bar Foundation on the same topics here.

Testimony 5: Amy Campanelli, Cook County Public Defender

As the Public Defender for Cook County, Amy Campanelli focused on the impact of the current system on her impoverished clients. Ms. Campanelli called out the existing lack of transparency in pretrial release decisions, pointing out that judges are hiding detention decisions behind money that defendants cannot pay, saying that if the decision “had integrity,” they would recognize that “a $25,000 Bond is a ‘No Bond’ decision for most of [her] clients.” Ms. Campanelli also noted that electronic monitoring is a form of custody, and that it is not working administratively or as an effective form of release for most of her clients.

Ms. Campanelli explained that the current bond statute has more than 30 criteria for judges to consider in a bond hearing—far too many, in her opinion. The absurdity that judges can consider more than 30 complex factors leads them instead to consider only their own instincts and biases: “When judges consider everything, they consider nothing.”

Finally, Ms. Campanelli noted that there is a built-in bias toward conviction for those who are locked-up pretrial: Only 50% of defendants out on bond are convicted, but 92% of defendants incarcerated pretrial are convicted. “Are you more guilty if you are locked up?,” Ms. Campanelli asked the crowd, “No, of course not.”

Earlier in the day at the press conference preceding the hearing, Ms. Campanelli also emphasized the considerable discretion bond court judges have to issue more I-Bonds under existing law. Barring a significant voluntary shift in judicial behavior, Ms. Campanelli suggested that Cook County has two ways to move forward: either Chief Judge Timothy Evans could issue an order to change the outcomes in bond court, or state legislative change will be needed.

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Dr. Schlesinger at the hearing

Dr. Traci Schlesinger, Associate Professor of Sociology at DePaul University

Dr. Schlesinger noted a number of things to keep in mind when planning for a system without monetary bond. First, out of any stage in the criminal justice system, the greatest racial discrimination occurs during the pretrial detention stage. Secondly, the impact of this discrimination is not just additive, it is multiplicative, meaning it results in increasing racial disparities as cases progress to resolution and sentencing. At present, all risk assessment instruments rely heavily on the defendant’s criminal record. Therefore, we must design and use risk assessment instruments that do not simply “launder” the racism inherent in previous points of contact with the criminal legal system such as arrests, which are known to be incredibly racially biased.

Secondly, Dr. Schlesinger warned against the use of too much pretrial supervision and even more insidious “pretrial treatment”—particularly if taking place in custody or through involuntary hospitalization. Empirically, it has been established that in-custody treatment is not effective and “treatment” in such a setting does not overcome the great harm of incarceration itself. By locating treatment in a jail or other secure facility, we begin to make destructive decisions under the mistaken assumption that we are helping by locking a person in a cage.

You can read some of Dr. Schlesinger’s work on pretrial release here.

You can watch and listen to the entire 3.5 hour hearing, including public comments, here.

Note: All photos used in this post were taken from Chicago Community Bond Fund’s twitter, @ChiBondFund.

 

 

 

10 Things You Don’t Know About the Office of the Chief Judge

Cook County Chief Judge Timothy Evans holds a powerful political office with many responsibilities. His office, The Office of the Chief Judge (“OCJ”) is responsible for overseeing many aspects of the Circuit Court of Cook County, the largest unified court system in the United States. In addition to establishing court policies and procedures, the OCJ is responsible for overseeing judicial behavior. Despite the office’s tremendous power—including the power to lead criminal justice reform efforts during this time of tremendous opportunity and public support—the office remains largely a mystery to those outside the legal community.

  1. The OCJ budget is HUGE. Over $240 million per year, in fact.
  2. Jesse Reyes, the disgraced former head of adult probation in Cook County, is currently the second highest paid staff person in the OCJ. His “Court Services Project Administrator” position comes with no discernable job duties and a $144, 700.00 salary (in 2015).
  3. Accountability of judges for poor performance is non-existent. The OCJ’s chief mechanism for sanctioning judges is moving them to undesirable courtroom assignments, but judges are moved to these roles (such as traffic court) only for political reasons or media pressure and never to mitigate the harm they may be perpetrating against average people in their courts. When an African American law professor was threatened with arrest for simply taking notes during an open proceeding at 26th and California, the only sanction the judge received was from the Chicago Tribune. It took the high-profile assault of a Sheriff’s Deputy to force the removal of Judge Brim in 2014 after years of egregious and harmful behavior.
  4. The Cook County OCJ has failed to lead court reform initiatives the way it could. In New York City, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman [PDF] has been a driving force of dramatic bail reforms both in his jurisdiction and across the state of New York. Here in Illinois, retired McLean County Chief Judge Elizabeth Robb dramatically improved courtroom information sharing through technological innovations. There is immense bipartisan momentum for criminal justice reform at the national, state, and county levels, yet the OCJ in Illinois’s largest county is a critical puzzle piece that remains missing.
  5. As Chief Judge, Tim Evans instituted a disastrous and unnecessary cellphone ban that dramatically restricted access to the felony courthouse for lower income people.
  6. The OCJ is responsible for allocating millions of dollars in county contracts. Cook County insider contract awards result in underperforming court services and third party vendors who are never held to account. In response to a larger troubling incident regarding civil rights violations within the Adult Probation Department, Chief Judge Timothy Evans hired a politically connected law firm to investigate. The firm was granted no subpoena power, is managed by a partner with deep ties to Evans, and has been accused of using the investigation to uncover the Tribune’s sources for the initial story that lead to public scrutiny.
  7. The OCJ is notoriously difficult to work with. The office often delays hiring, and refuses grants that would fund needed services or advance reform. For example, Jesse Reyes was appointed in 2005 “to become acting chief probation officer, but [Evans] never formally made the title permanent, a fact that sources said left many questioning the department’s leadership” all the way through Reyes’s departure in 2014.
  8. The OCJ uses ghost payroll and secret job postings to avoid public accountability. The OCJ employs more than 20 “legal system analysts,” yet no one has ever met one of them. In addition, there is no central website posting for jobs in the OCJ, unlike every other county department such as the Forest Preserve, the Assessor, Health and Hospitals, the Office of the President, and the Sheriff’s Office, to name a few.
  9. Only people who work for the Chief Judge get to vote for the Chief Judge. The Chief Judge is elected by a vote of all elected judges: about 250 of the total 400 judges.
  10. There is an election coming up in September, 2016! Current Chief Judge Timothy Evans is being challenged by former Alderman and current Chancery Division Judge Thomas Allen.

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    Chief Judge of the Cook County Circuit Court Timothy Evans, Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez speaking to the City Club of Chicago at Maggiano’s, on Cook County Justice. Thursday, May 7, 2015 (Brian Jackson/For the Sun Times)

First Group of Defendants Pass Through Drug Field-Testing Program

 

Included here is the second quarterly report of the program study committee for the pilot drug field testing program created under 50 ILCS 737/1.

The Cook County Pilot Drug Field-Testing Program was brought about to reduce the average time in jail between arrest and preliminary hearing for individuals arrested on drug charges. Advocacy for the project began with Chicago Appleseed’s policy brief in 2013 which led to collaborations with community groups, negotiation with stakeholder agencies, and, ultimately, passage of the law.

Historically in Cook County, those charged with drug possession have had to wait 24 days on average just to get to a preliminary hearing at which a judge determines probable cause. Other cases involving more serious crimes (including crimes of violence) get to their preliminary hearings within 8 to 12 days.

In 2013, judges in Cook County determined that 27 percent of drug possession cases — 6,116 — were not supported by probable cause and dismissed those cases at their preliminary hearings. A substantial portion of these individuals were being held in jail the entire time that they waited for their preliminary hearings at a huge cost to taxpayers.

In 2010, for example, there were 5,000 detainees at the jail each day awaiting preliminary hearings on drug charges.

This quarter has seen the first group of individuals pass through the program, which currently exist in the 6th police district in Chicago.

  • A total of ninety-four (94) individuals have been admitted to custody (for at least 1 day according to Cook County State’s Attorney Office records) subject to a drug field test from the 6th district.
  • The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has directed its Assistant State’s Attorneys to request preliminary hearing dates one week from the time of the bond hearing (which is typically one day after arrest) for those coming in through the pilot program. The ~7 day time to preliminary hearing represents a significant reduction from the current average time to preliminary hearing which is 17 days.
  • Of the 94 individuals admitted to custody under the program, 15 have been in custody long enough to be affected by the shorter time to preliminary hearing (they have had stays of longer than 7 days). The cases of these 15 are either ongoing or resolved at some point after preliminary hearing.
  • 79 of the 94 individuals left custody at some point before their preliminary hearing or other next court date (in case of misdemeanors). These individuals left custody either by posting bond, being given an I-bond (personal recognizance), or being given electronic monitoring.

Questions for the program study committee going forward include how much the 15 positively affected individuals represent a cost-savings for the County, whether the number is deflated due to lower arrest rates, and how many more individuals would be passing through the program if it were expanded city-wide.

 

 

 

Visitation at Cook County Jail – Part 1

During an inmate’s time at Cook County Jail, a visit from a friend or loved one can mean a world of difference. A study conducted by the Minnesota Department of Corrections found that prisoners who received at least one personal visit at any time during their incarceration were 13 percent less likely to commit another felony and 25 percent less likely to end up back in prison on a technical parole violation. Data showed that the more visits prisoners received, the lower their chance of recidivating after release. Visits can help to improve the morale and well-being of both inmates and their loved ones and maintain personal connections that prove to be crucial during re-entry.

However, gaining and maintaining access to visitation rights can be difficult, especially for those without access to resources and flexible schedules. Potential visitors must fill out an application and submit to a background check. They must also be in contact with the inmate they wish to visit, in order to be placed on the inmate’s visitation list. An online Inmate Locator may be used to find out where an inmate has been placed.

To find out more about the experience of visiting an inmate at Cook County Jail, we spoke to Patty Cloud, a member of Progressive Community Church. Patty has been visiting incarcerated members of the church’s congregation since 2011, and is involved in religious volunteer work in the Cook County DOC. We will publish a total of three segments on visitation, each covering a different aspect of Patty’s experience. In this first segment, Patty talks about gaining access to visitation, the challenges she and others have encountered throughout the process, and the impact that this process has on families.

Next week, Cook County Justice Watch will share Patty’s experience on visiting day, including the wait to see an inmate and the process of communicating during the visit. Subscribe to follow these segments.

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A gate visitors enter during visitation at Cook County Jail

 

Interview footage shot and produced by Rachel Hoffman. rachelehoffman.com/video/

Interview conducted by Ruby Pinto. 

Policy Focus On The State’s Attorney Candidates: Donna More

Donna More, CBS Local
Donna More, CBS Local

The race for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has gained national interest of late due to controversy surrounding the brutal killing of a black teenager by a white police officer followed by an apparent delay by the state’s attorney office to bring charges against the officer.

This particular incident, of course, represents only a small part of a breakdown of trust between criminal justice agencies and communities of color, concerns regarding codes of silence within and between the State’s Attorney’s Office and the Chicago Police Department, and, more broadly, the trends in law enforcement which have resulted in a system of mass incarceration both locally and nationally.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office is in a particularly powerful position not just to prosecute crimes but, with immense influence in Springfield and locally, to set criminal justice policy. It is with this in mind that we at Cook County Justice Watch present the policy goals of each of the candidates for the State’s Attorney and hope to steer the discussion toward the effect their policies may have on communities going forward.

Donna More is a former assistant State’s Attorney under Richard M. Daley and a former federal prosecutor; she has since spent much of her legal career representing casinos and other companies involved in the gaming industry. Her campaign is principally funded by personal wealth, family member donations, followed by companies such as More Sports Management, Universal Gaming Group LLC, and MBR Properties and Management LLC.

What Sets Donna More Apart: Political Stances and Media Focus. Media attention has focused attention on a 2014 contribution made by her to Republican Bruce Rauner’s campaign for governor and pulling a Republican ballot, despite the fact that More is running as a Democrat in this state’s attorney race.

In terms of political stances, More has positioned herself as someone not beholden to vested political interests, attacking the integrity of the office under State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez and painting the other challenger, Kim Foxx, former assistant State’s Attorney and former Chief of Staff to County Board President Preckwinkle, as underqualified. Specifically she has criticized Kim Foxx for spending much of her career in the juvenile division of the Cook County State’s Attorney office and attaining supervisory ranks there as opposed to working in the adult felony division where More spent some of her time under, then State’s Attorney, Richard M. Daley. This stance reflects longstanding beliefs within and without of the State’s Attorney’s Office that adult felony cases, particularly involving very serious crimes, define the office more than the juvenile division, which, though dealing with similar crimes at times, often has a more rehabilitative focus.

Below are positions on particular policies. We, in our series on the Cook County State’s Attorney race will include the positions of all the candidates on the following issues which have been most remarked upon by the candidates:

  • Special Prosecutor for Police Shootings: She has opposed the need for a special prosecutor for police shootings. A Special Prosecutor would be an independent prosecutorial office that works apart from the State’s Attorney’s Office and the police department, to insure independence, and would be brought in to investigate and prosecute when police officers are charged with crimes. This would be similar to how prosecutions are carried out when it is a state’s attorney who is charged with a crime. More has instead proposed a unit within the State’s Attorney’s Office that would be dedicated toward prosecuting police officers and reporting directly to herself.
  • Violence: She has called for a gun court to be established and has named ‘gun violence’ as her number one priority. The gun court proposal puts Donna More at odds with many research institutions, including Northwestern’s Bluhm Legal Clinic, the Center for Court Innovation, and results arrived at by the Cook County Violence Prevention, Intervention, and Reduction, all of whom have indicated that gun courts may not be effective at decreasing crime and in their sentencing run counter to current best practices for courts, limiting both individual justice and judicial discretion.
  • Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC): During the recent debate hosted on WBEZ on Thursday, January 28, 2016, Donna More seemed to be previously unaware of CPAC proposals but foreword by several community groups, but seemed willing to support one so long as that council would not decide upon the bringing of criminal charges.
  • Response to Low Level Crimes, Alternatives to Traditional Prosecution and Deferred Prosecution: More has been less vocal on expanding alternatives to prison for low lever crimes as compared with the other candidates, Foxx and State’s Attorney Alvarez, but has suggested that the cost of jailing individuals for cases that will likely be thrown out to be a waste of taxpayer money.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Facts on Police Discipline and Suggested Reforms

Over the past two years, killings of black men, women, and children at the hands of police officers have received increased national attention due to widespread organizing efforts. In Chicago, over the last several months, the 2014 killing of 17 year-old Laquan McDonald and subsequent delays in investigation sparked calls for massive reform of the Chicago Police Department, the State’s Attorney’s Office, and the Mayor’s Office. In order to aid this discussion, we have outlined below the facts that are currently known about Laquan McDonald’s killing, the current accountability framework for police officers in Chicago, and some recommendations for reform have already been put forward.

The Facts So Far

Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed 17 year-old Laquan McDonald on October 20, 2014. According to Officer Van Dyke’s report, Laquan McDonald was standing facing policing officers and aggressively waiving a knife when he fired 16 shots in 14 seconds. The police cruiser’s dashcam video shows something else, however: it shows that Laquan McDonald was walking diagonally away from officers when Van Dyke, who had just arrived on the scene, opened fire.

Since then the following information has also been reported from multiple sources:

  • Five other CPD officers wrote reports with statements that were contradicted by videos.
  • The original dashcam video and several others released later all have faulty audio components.
  • Police discouraged witnesses on the scene from making statements.
  • After the shooting, police officers entered a nearby Burger King and accessed its surveillance video. When the video was retrieved later, it had an 86 minute gap that included the time of the shooting.
  • In the wake of the release of the shooting video, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel fired Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy, and Scott Ando, the head of IPRA, resigned.

 

The Current Disciplinary System:

Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA)

IPRA was created in 2007 as a civilian-led independent police review agency, though its chief administrative staff to date have consisted entirely of former law enforcement officers. IPRA is required to investigate the following: all police shootings where an officer injures someone, all deaths in custody, and claims of excessive force. (The Police Department’s Bureau of Internal Affairs investigates other categories of complaints. See below.)

Since 2007, IPRA has investigated 409 police shootings, but found only two unjustified. Of these 409 shooting victims, 301 were Black, 58 were Hispanic, and 36 were white. In 2014, IPRA concluded that in 54% of its completed investigations, there was insufficient evidence either to prove or disprove the complaint. IPRA has subpoena power to compel testimony and evidence and can make recommendations as to disciplinary action and firing of officers. IPRA requires individuals who are filing complaints against police officers to sign affidavits, a practice that has been criticized as many individuals refuse to sign affidavits for fear of reprisals.

The methods and procedures by which IPRA operates are governed by rules set forth by the Chicago Police Board in concert with the terms of the police contract negotiated with the Fraternal Order of Police.

Scott Ando, former head of IPRA. WGN-TV
Scott Ando, former head of IPRA. WGN-TV

The Bureau of Internal Affairs

The Bureau of Internal Affairs (BIA) is a reviewing body within the Chicago Police Department. The BIA investigates all categories of misconduct not investigated by IPRA, including stop & frisk violations, sexual assaults, false arrests, denial of medical aid, and more. Unlike IPRA, the BIA is not required by law to report on the results of its investigations.

 

The Chicago Police Board

The Chicago Police Board holds hearings in cases where serious discipline (dismissal, and suspensions of over 30 days or more) have been recommended. The Chicago Police Board is the only body that can terminate a police officers’ employment, however, few officers are ever fired. For instance, in 2014, the Chicago Police Superintendent sought to fire 22 officers in proceedings before the Police Board. The Board fired just six. Five additional officers resigned. A relatively small number of police officers are named in many misconduct complaints. Officer Van Dyke, for example, had been named in 17 complaints.

All recommendations regarding the disciplining of police officers have to go through the Police Superintendent before they are passed onto the Chicago Police Board or otherwise acted upon.

Former Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy - STEPHANIE DOWELL / SUN-TIMES MEDIA
Former Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy – STEPHANIE DOWELL / SUN-TIMES MEDIA

The Mayor of the City of Chicago

The Mayor’s Office appoints the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department with the advice and consent of the City Council and the Chicago Police Board. The Mayor appoints the chief administrators of IPRA and all 9 members of the Chicago Police Board. The mayor has the power to dismiss these appointees at any time.

Mayor Rahm Emmanuel PAUL BEATY/AP
Mayor Rahm Emmanuel
PAUL BEATY/AP

History of police discipline in the current system

From 2010 to 2014, IPRA investigators sustained only 4% of the 17,700 complaints they reviewed. Sixty percent of complaints were thrown out because the alleged victims failed or refused to sign affidavits. Of the 800 cases in which officers were found at fault, 45% were given only a written reprimand and received no other punishment; 28% were suspended but docked only 1-5 days of pay, and 15% had resigned before any punishment could be imposed. Most officers who were disciplined were not disciplined for excessive force or other conduct against community members, but for minor or technical violations: misuse of department equipment, having unauthorized second jobs, and other personnel violations.

 

Proposed Reforms 

While killings by police have sparked outrage and inspired street protests, many groups have also developed policy proposals designed to overhaul the current police accountability and disciplinary framework in Chicago. Below we outline the major features of one proposed ordinance that has received a great deal of support from community groups that have also been engaged in protest. The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR) has drafted a proposed ordinance creating a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC). The CPAC ordinance would create a council comprised of elected community members from each police district, emphasizing racially equitable and proportional representation. The CPAC would entirely replace IPRA, and would have the power to:

  • Appoint the Superintendent of Police;
  • Develop guidelines and standard operating procedures for police;
  • Investigate all police shootings and allegations police misconduct or violations of state, municipal, federal, constitutional or human rights law;
  • Make final decisions regarding officer discipline;
  • Refer cases to the U.S. Federal Grand Jury and the U.S. Attorney in order to seek indictments against police officers.

The Community Renewal Society, a faith-based organizing group in Chicago has also proposed its own FAIR COPS ordinance (fact sheet available here). FAIR COPS would retain the overall structure and powers of IPRA, the Chicago Police Board, the Bureau of Internal Affairs, and the Mayor, but introduce another office of the Police Auditor to review all investigations and police procedures with a goal of ensuring fairness, transparency, and consistency. Specific powers regarding the firing of officers and investigation of citizen complains would not be in the hands of the Police Auditor, but the body would have access to data and records from the police department, as well as subpoena power.

The Chicago Community Bond Fund Is Taking On Cash Bond One Person at a Time

The Chicago Community Bond Fund Is Taking On Cash Bond One Person at a Time

Part 3 in our series on bond court in Cook County.

Read Part 1: ‘Disrespectful…inattentive and vindictive’ Cook County’s Bond Court.

Read Part 2: Public Defender Amy Campanelli On Reforming Cook County’s Bond Court.

As Public Defender Amy Campanelli continues to push for the necessary reforms to bond court as described in Part 2 of our series, individuals continue to be caught up in unnecessary pre-trial detention simply because they lack the resources to get out. Now, one group of Chicagoans is taking it upon themselves to pay bond for some of the thousands of people in Cook County Jail (CCJ) who have been granted bond but are unable to afford it. The Chicago Community Bond Fund is a new non-profit organization dedicated to ending the use of monetary bond in Illinois, and working to get people out of Cook County Jail in the meantime.

The basic problems with money bond

As has been well-known for a while, and as CCBF itself pointed out in a recent AREA Chicago article, cash bond is not good public safety policy. Despite claims that monetary bond ensures defendants return to court and discourages commission of new crimes, supporting evidence for those claims is weak to non-existent. For example, Washington, D.C. eliminated use of monetary bond decades ago, and instead established a Pretrial Services Agency (PSA) that uses risk assessment to make release decisions. Once released, defendants are supported by services that further increase their chances of succeeding while awaiting trial. A 2013 BJA funded study of unsecured bonds by the Pretrial Justice Institute found that unsecured bonds are as effective as secured bonds at both ensuring court appearance and achieving public safety goals such as avoiding re-arrest.

Though the benefits of using monetary bond are hard to confirm, the harms of pretrial detention are obvious and well-documented. People who are incarcerated simply because they cannot pay an often arbitrary amount of money may lose their jobs, housing, and even custody of their children. Family and community connections are damaged, the defendant is less able to participate in their own defense, and the chances of being convicted increase. Detained defendants who are convicted also receive significantly longer sentences than defendants who were not detained pretrial. Each one of these outcomes further decreases the defendant’s chances of future success and increases recidivism. In a review of over 150,000 criminal cases in Kentucky, the Arnold Foundation found that defendants who are detained “are over four times more likely to be sentenced to jail and over three times more likely to be sentenced to prison than defendants who are released at some point pending trial.” Perhaps the most compelling result of studying the impact of pretrial detention is the fact that when low- and moderate-risk defendants are detained even a few days, the odds of recidivation significantly increase. (Source.)

Non-financial conditional release, based on the history, characteristics, and reliability of the defendant, is more effective than financial release conditions. Reliance on money bail discriminates against indigent defendants and cannot effectively address the need for release conditions that protect the public. Pro-social interventions that address substance disorders, employment, housing, medical, educational, and mental health issues afford defendants the opportunity for personal improvement and decrease the likelihood of criminal behavior.”Guiding Principles of the Pretrial Services Agency for the District of Columbia

Who is in Cook County Jail?

Cook County Jail is no outlier by national standards. Frequently referred to as the largest single-site jail in the country, CCJ has around 70,000 admission every year. Like most jails, the vast majority of CCJ’s population is pre-trial. In early October 2015, fully 95% of CCJ inmates were awaiting trial. The vast majority of those behind bars were technically eligible for bond as set by a judge but were simply unable to afford it. In fact, over 150 of the nearly 9,000 people incarcerated in CCJ at that time needed to post only $500 or less in bond in order to be released. Also like most jails, CCJ is disproportionately Black. Despite the fact that only 24% of Cook County residents are African American, CCJ’s population was 73% Black in October 2015.

Introducing the Bond Fund

Chicago Community Bond Fund’s mission is, quite simply, to help people get out of CCJ. Growing out of a grassroots effort to bond out five activists arrested at an August 2014 community vigil for Desean Pittman, CCBF has now set its sights on less obviously political pretrial detainees. The group of activists, attorneys, and community members has established a revolving bond fund that will pay bond for people who simply cannot pay it themselves. In their words, “paying bond …  restores the presumption of innocence before trial and enables recipients to remain free while fighting their cases.” CCBF also plans to conduct teach-ins and other public education “about the role of bond in the criminal legal system and [advocate] for the abolition of money bond.”

Watch the short video below to hear CCBF co-founder Jeanette Wince speaking at the launch party on November 21, 2015. Jeanette begins by discussing how she and other family members raised bond money for those arrested in August 2014 by throwing house parties and holding raffles.

 

So far, CCBF has been focused on creating organizational structure and establishing guidelines for operation. Nevertheless, the group has found time to continue supporting broader causes of criminal justice reform and racial justice. After the release of the video showing a Chicago police officer shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times on November 24th, CCBF quickly established a bond fund for protesters who took to the street demanding justice and accountability. Now, CCBF has joined a coalition of groups to raise money to post bond for Naomi Freeman, a young Black mother in Cook County Jail after killing her abusive partner.

CCBF’s Adventures Posting Bond

On December 3rd, CCBF posted bond for their first client, and their experience reveals a lot about the hurdles ordinary Chicagoans face when trying to post bond for a loved one. Two CCBF members, Max and Ash, headed to Cook County Jail around 2pm on an ordinary Thursday. When Ash attempted to post bond, he was told that CCBF’s client, R., was serving a sentence and thus could not be bonded out. When Ash tried to ask questions, knowing that R. had not yet been sentenced, he was given no further information. The clerk merely repeated the same thing multiple times, and conveyed to Ash that R. would be released when her sentence was over in March 2016.

After calling R’s attorney and confirming that she had not yet been sentenced and was, in fact, eligible for bond, Max and Ash tried to figure out why the system was reporting an incorrect status. By chance, Max saw someone from the public defender’s office who he knew from when he interned there as a law student. That person was able to contact her supervisor in the public defender’s office, who in turn contacted a supervisor over in the bond posting office. Eventually, a little over an hour later, the county employees were changing shifts, so Ash sat in the office for 30 minutes while the shift change took place. After two more system errors and separate 15-20 minute delays, Ash was finally able to post bond around 5pm, and R. finally walked out of CCJ nearly 4 hours later (approximately 7 hours after Ash first tried to post bond). He noted that as a non-attorney with no special access to supervisors or court records, he would never have been able to correct the system error that reported R’s status as sentenced instead of pre-trial. During his time in the waiting room, Ash saw several people turned away from posting bond entirely and delayed due to system errors. As is unfortunately often the case in Cook County, it was only as a result of special access and connectionsand those mostly the result of Max’s status as an attorneythat Max and Ash were eventually able to post R.’s bond.

You can read more about CCBF’s client R and their other recent news in their newsletter.